Purposeful Reading for the Character of God
Recently I found myself battling the slowly creeping giant of doubt as I pondered some perplexing passages and confusing questions I encounter in the Bible. In the context of this struggle, I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to read scripture (especially the Psalms) with an adjusted and intentional focus that I want to explain in this article. Let me begin by saying that there are plenty of Bible reading strategies available ranging from a devotional to exegetical emphasis. I do not intend to dive here into the diversity of methodologies for Bible reading and Bible study, nor is it my purpose to discuss the various strategies for Bible interpretation. I simply want to offer some personal narrative and insights on what it means to seek understanding of who God has revealed himself to be, which is one of the main purposes for Christian Bible reading and study. When we understand who God has revealed himself to be, we see more clearly our identity and what we are called to think, speak, and do.
Watch Out for Satan’s Scheme
I often find myself entrenched in the process of reading and analyzing scripture to understand it, to make sense of it, and to reconcile it to a framework that I can process and then articulate to others. I desire fruitful kingdom production in my life, which seems to be first connected to understanding (Matt 13:1-30). But sometimes my desire to understand leads me into heavy moments of frustration, confusion, and doubt. In the trenches of these battles, I have become more aware of the plots and schemes of Satan, our tactical adversary. In his attempts to thwart God’s kingdom advancement, it seems that Satan tries to discredit the character of God. Yes, this happens to the unconvinced, but I also notice this onslaught attack on the saints, which might be more detrimental to God’s kingdom advancement. If Satan's tactic of diminishing God’s character is successful, a person begins to slide into despair and doubt. This crippling effect will leave a believer unfruitful in proclaiming the power of the gospel that leads to salvation (Rom 1:16).
So how do we fight against Satan's adversarial strategies? I propose that we seek to understand more about the character of God. What I mean by “character of God” is simply to know who God is revealed to be in the scriptures. How do we do this? I think we come to these insights through asking questions of the Bible passages we read, such as: What has the author stated about who God is? What has God said about himself? What has God promised? How does God respond or react to a situation? What has God done, and what is he doing? As we find answers to these types of questions, we begin to realize many truths about God—he is trustworthy, holy, all-powerful, and aware of our needs. When we come to conclusions like these, we begin to taste the joy of understanding the character of God. Understanding the character of God leads us to proper worship of him. It is like fuel to the flame of our worship. It pumps our lungs full of air and gives our mouths the words to speak!
A Strategy for Seeing the Character of God
For the remainder of the article, I want to provide a snapshot into what my wife and I have learned in the past few weeks as we experience an adjusted, intentional purpose for reading to see the character of God.
First, we read a psalm out loud together, taking turns reading every other verse, often using two different translations. Then we will go back through the psalm specifically looking for things that highlight the character of God. While we work through the psalm, we pause with each verse to consider what it might be saying about God’s character. As a result, we open ourselves up to be reminded of, and to see for the first time, the amazing truths of God’s character that we might have missed upon the first reading.
Sometimes we don’t find a direct statement about God’s character. We are careful not to make the verse say something it’s not intended to say. However, we have learned not to move on to the next verse too soon. Perhaps there are times when we can learn about the character of God through what is not said about him. When we do come across a character-of-God statement, we write it down in a notebook with its verse reference. If there are multiple characteristics of God in a verse, we tend to write a statement for each characteristic. This provides simple statements about God that can easily be committed to memory or recollected.
After we finish writing down all of the character-of-God statements from a given psalm, we review each statement, basking in the simple, but deep truths we were able to see. This usually leads us into a time of prayer, where we use our written statements as a catalyst to thank God for who he is and what he is doing.
The Joy of Savoring the Character of God
This process of recording our observations about the character of God, as revealed in the Psalms, has been refreshing and encouraging to our hearts. Even the most basic truths, like “God is near” (Psa 119:151) is drilled deeper into our hearts. How wonderful it is to experience the beautiful promise God makes to write his laws on our heart (Jer 31:33-34)! This process also allows the truths about God to become more intimate and personal because there is an experience of pursuit attached to each statement.
This process could be done individually, and probably should be done that way on occasion, but when done in community the rewards of insight are multiplied. Just think about it: the more you see of the character of God, the more you will be fueled to adore and worship him. Furthermore, the more you know of the character of God, the more easily you can recognize the counterfeits of our Adversary. The more you know of the character of God, the more you can fully walk in complete satisfaction because you will realize the living, triune God is marvelous and promises marvelous things!
To this point, my wife and I have made observations starting from Psalm 119:102 through Psalm 136 and have recorded 146 truths about the character of God. Here’s an example of one of our meditations based on Psalm 125. Read the psalm for yourself and see if you can add to our observations about God and his character.
- God is an unshakeable foundation. (v. 1)
- God is eternal (v. 1)
- God is worthy of trust (v.1)
- God surrounds his people (v. 2)
- God is in the present and in the future (v.2)
- God is aware of righteous and unrighteous deeds (v. 5-6)
My desire and prayer for putting words to this process is to encourage a pursuit for examining the character of God. May it lead more people to adoration and praise of the God who has no end! May our right thinking about who God is produce in us infinite worship and adoration of the triune God!